Why public schools need public Christian support

If the media were your sole source of information you could be forgiven for thinking Christians universally favour private schools over public schools. Yet, it’s a fact that many Christians send their children to public schools and are quite happy with the education they receive there. So, what’s the other side of the story? Is it just the cheaper fees? Maybe so. But beyond such pragmatism I would also like to advance some RELIGIOUS arguments for supporting public school systems in Australia and beyond. What’s more, I am going to deliberately go for a right-of-centre angle as I go about it, given that’s where I see the shift in awareness most needs to happen.

1/ Islamic integration

Everywhere I go I hear conservative Christians expressing fears about Muslims. Fears that they’re taking over, that they seek to impose Sharia Law locally, that they live in enclaves and resist integration, that Muslim schools could be potential to breading grounds future terrorists. Now, let us suppose for the moment that these fears are well founded and not exaggerated in the slightest (ignoring for a bit the ample evidence that a Muslim takeover is outrageously unlikely in the Australian context), is the Christian retreat into private schools and home schooling likely to solve the integration problem or exacerbate it? Think about it. What could be a greater argument for the legitimacy of Muslim private schools than a plethora of Christian private schools (given, after all, that we live in a pluralistic democracy where discriminatory policy is illegal)? What could encourage Muslim enclaving more than Christian attacks on the public school system (given, after all, that this undermines the prime alternative to private Muslim education)? It’s time more Christians woke up to this, put their money where their mouth is regarding integration and support public schools more vocally.

2/ SRE support

Many have noted how the success of Christian discount bookstores like Koorong have had an extremely negative impact on the availability of quality Christian books in secular bookstores. Quite simply, secular bookstores can no longer afford to stock anything other than the most outrageously liberal books that evangelical bookstores would never compete with them over. Should we not stop to consider then, if recent challenges to Special Religious Education (SRE) in private schools and the exodus of evangelical Christians to private schooling might not be, you know, just a wee bit related as well? Why, after all, should schools in highly multicultural and multireligious suburbs give preference to Christian religious education when the most committed Christian families are exiting? Wouldn’t the best way to ensure the continuence of SRE be for Christian families to continue using the service?

3/ Life preparation

Finally, when do you think would be the best time to expose your kids to secular thought? When you have maximum influence over them or when you have minimum influence over them? This protecting kids from state schools so that they won’t be taught evolution, this bubbling till university, this is a high risk strategy for conservatives in my view. You can’t bubble your kids forever. What, save the culture shock for when you’re least able to disciple them??? How’s that smart? The sooner they engage with the world they live in the better. Training for faithfulness in a faithless world is something we need to start early, while they are still in school.

8 Comments

  1. let me say upfront, i’m a teacher at a private christian school, so that’s going to colour my response here significantly. i’m not going to argue the value of public education, though, for anybody – christian or non. i totally agree with you on that front and think it’s in everybody’s best interests to have have a strong, diverse public school system, and i support it wholeheartedly. i also understand that you’ve deliberately taken a right leaning stance here to make a point. so, with those caveats….
    i’d mostly just like to defend the assumption that you’ve presented that christian schools are about ‘protecting’ children from secular thought (point 3). firstly, every school must teach the state directed curriculum, otherwise they are not registered and cannot exist. this means that, even if they wanted to, it would be legally impossible for a school of any sort to ‘protect’ children from evolution, communism, multiculturalism, whatever – any of the things that the media might paint christians as wishing to avoid. these things are all taught in christian schools.
    but secondly, even if it was legally possible, my experiences in and around many christian schools tells me that these are not the schools’ intentions anyway. all of those things are taught, what is different is that underlying worldviews to everything are acknowledged, whether that be ‘christian’, ‘secular’, ‘islamic’, ‘humanist’, ‘atheist’, whatever. that’s very different to ‘protecting’, by which, i’m assuming, you mean ‘not exposing’. as a teacher in a christian school, the majority of school and inter-school conferences revolve around some aspect of this idea – how to teach students to engage with the views of non-christians in a meaningful, useful manner, acknowledging where all these ideas come from.
    and lastly, many of those ‘demons’ you infer (evolution, etc) are not actually big issues within christian schools. i think you’d be very hard pressed to find any christian school where (for example) the majority of science teachers don’t believe in evolutionary theory.
    whether or not parents who choose to send their children to christian schools understand this is, of course, another matter entirely.
    anyway, as i said, this is not a criticism of your basic thesis, which i support. just a defense of one misperception you seemed happy to throw around.

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  2. Hi Matt and Hi Adrian,
    Matt, I agree with your general thesis. Adrian, I generally agree with you, but I wonder to what extent Fundamentalist schools project creation ‘science’ (???) in their religious lessons. I wonder whether they distiguish between biological evolution and evolutionism.
    I don’t have any problem with Catholic, Anglican, Uniting Church and many Baptist schools. They generally recognize the distinction.
    A few years ago, I applied to two conservative evangelical schools for a mathematics vacancy. The plerotha of doctrinal questions, (on the material sent to me to fill in with my application), included several questions on evolution and creation which seemed to imply that biological evolution was inconsistent with Christian faith. I decided not to pursue these applications.
    Now these two examples may not be representative of Fundamentalist schools as a whole but I am yet to be persuaded otherwise.
    Shalom,
    John Arthur

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  3. Adrian
    You make some interesting points and I’ll humbly conceed that your experience as a teacher in a private Christian school undoubtably leaves you with more insider knowledge than myself. If I could clarify my stance though, my primary beef is not with private schools per se, nor its teachers, but with (1) unbalanced public perceptions and (2) the unintended socio-religious consequences of an overly successful private school system.
    I do not need too much convincing that there are teachers in private Christian schools who accept evolution on the basis of the evidence, who understand the difference between evolutionary science and philosophical evolutionism on the one hand and the difference between science and theologically motivated pseudo-science on the other. I’ve known some personally. But its also undeniable that some of the loudest voices behind Christian schools in the public arena are those with a retreatist mindset. It is this public face that concerns me. Maybe a subtext to this conversation should also be, let private schools not be made publically subservient to the agendas of extremist voices!
    I grow concerned that the equation is too glibly made between public schools as THE choise for secular parents and private schools as THE choise for more spiritual parents. Since I’ve known parents who’ve chosen private schools for decidedly irreligious reasons and others who’ve chosen public schools for admirably Christian reasons. All too often such truths are brushed over by Christian lobbyists. So my intention here is to highlight, these things that the Christian right crow loudly about – Muslim integration, SRE, and the corrosive impacts of secularity on Christian youth – these things can be negatively impacted by the undermining of public schools as a legitimate choise for conservative Christian parents. I would like to advocate the legitimacy of public schools as a responsible, indeed a responsibly religious choise, for committed Christians.
    Coming back to private school supporters then, I perfectly understand that they would want to promote private schooling, I just want to highlight the dangers of overplaying their hand.

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  4. john.
    it’s a shame you didn’t pursue those things on the basis of those particular questions. i do know that the school at which i teach has a question about creation/evolution in its application form. however, the assumption that the answer being ‘looked for’ is a creationist one is a shame. i think it may be there as a hangover from the early days of the movement where a more literalist interpretation might have been sought. but i can also vouch for the fact that within my very same school, people are free (myself included) to be openly evolutionist and that the school has actively sought training for its teachers from evolutionist christians (frank stootman being the most recent). so, while, yes, the question is definitely in applications, don’t assume it means they want/need you to answer with a creationist answer.
    matt, you have my full agreement. also, i think incorrect public perceptions, coupled with (fueled by?) lobbyists (why are the loudest lobbyists always those on the fringes?), are the main causes of the issues you outline.
    oh, and to support kath, it’s “choice”, not “choise” (unless, of course, you are using it in the sadly declined manner of late 80s western sydney teen vernacular – i.e. your new bmx is choise, mate!).

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  5. Hi Adrian,
    Perhaps I should have pursued my application but it had other detailed questions on what I thought on inerrancy, details of the second coming (e.g; what you believed about the rapture and the millennium), and what my stance was on speaking in tongues and the other gifts of the Spirit.
    These questions, together with the questions on ceartion and evolution made me suspicious of where the questions were leading and seemed to be totally irrelevant for mathematics teaching and on whether I was a Christian or not.
    But perhaps, things may not have been as bad as they seemed to me and perhaps I should have applied to see where the ‘land actually lay’. Many thanks for your helpful comments.
    Shalom,
    John Arthur

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  6. As a 65 year old grandpa I’ve seen a lot of change in our schools. I attended public school and we started each day with the Pledge of Allegiance as well as the Lords Prayer. It seemed to set the tone for the day. Now that seems to be missing in most schools. However I have a question that perhaps you can answer. Since we have a separation of church and state, how is it that Islam is allowed to be taught in our public schools? I would like to refer you to this video which I received in an email. http://bcove.me/07uefz8c
    May God Bless you,
    Ron

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